I’ve been a parent of small children for 11 straight years. My first two children are almost exactly 2 ½ years apart, and my second and third children are a little over 3 ½ years apart. Thus, from the moment my first child was born until right this very minute, I’ve had a baby, toddler, preschooler, or some combination of the three at home.
And I’m tired. (I hesitate to say “I’m tired of it” since I expect I’ll be weeping into my “I’m done with parenting little kids!” celebration cocktail on the day my youngest baby enters kindergarten later this year.) In fact, "tired" probably isn’t even the right word. I’m exhausted. I’m depleted. My brain is complete mush.
And so as I’ve reflected on these past 11 years, I’ve begun to wonder: Would it have been better—less stressful, less depleting, less grueling—if I’d had my kids closer together? What if I’d had them all 18 months apart? They all would have been in school, and been more independent and generally rational, years ago!
There are, of course, specific health considerations to keep in mind when planning the window between one’s pregnancies. Spacing pregnancies less than 18 months apart, for instance, can increase the risk of preterm birth and low birthweight.
And so now I’m left wondering: Would I have less (or more) grey hair now if I’d had my kids closer together?
And then sometimes, our circumstances—including our own bodies—can override our plans. Infertility, unplanned pregnancies, miscarriages, and preterm birth can all “choose” the space between our babies for us.
My husband and I were lucky enough to have some control over the spacing between each of our children. We initially thought that having the last two children farther apart would be less stressful for us. Something about having a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old plus a baby instead of a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old plus a baby seemed like a better, saner option. Nonetheless, we didn’t fully considered one important fact about those options.
The more time you space between each child, the longer you’ll be parenting small children.
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This is, of course, a basic mathematical and temporal fact. And it’s a fact that should have been obvious to me when my husband and I were planning our family. But it wasn’t all that obvious to me.
Or at least I didn’t consider it seriously.
And so now I’m left wondering: Would I have less (or more) grey hair now if I’d had my kids closer together? Would I be at a different place in my career? Would I have been crushed by the weight of having three very small children born so close together, or would I feel liberated by the early onset of my small child-free time? How different would my life actually be if I’d spent 8, 9, or 10 years, and not 11 years parenting little ones?
The truth is that there probably isn’t greener grass on either side of the child-spacing equation. Have your children very close together, and you’ll be in double (or triple) diaper-duty and toddler chaos for a good long while. But you’ll be done with all the diapers and irrationality more quickly. Have your children farther apart, and you might only deal with one diapered child, one baby, and one toddler at a time. But you’ll be engaged in that work for a bit (or a lot) longer.
Rip off the bandage in one quick, excruciating motion? Or pull it up one slow, excruciating millimeter at a time?
Either way, there’s pain and sacrifice.
But unlike ripping off a bandage, there’s a lot of good to be had with any child-spacing decision, too.
And so as much as I might wonder about how life might be different if I’d had my children closer together, I know that this wondering is mere speculation. I cannot change anything now.
All I can do—all any of us can do—is close this chapter of parenting with grace and gratitude.